Prior to The Unexpected Fort Smith as an artistic venue or as a viable cultural community wasn’t even on the radar.
Fort Smith is a town with a rich history and heritage, but like many towns in the mid 2000s Fort Smith’s future was uncertain. Creating an event like The Unexpected provoked people into action, to drive reasons to come to Fort Smith, specifically downtown Fort Smith. Since the first event in 2015 downtown has seen a renaissance with new storefronts, coffee shops and merchant associations. Existing business are expanding and seeing increased clientele. The Unexpected provides the creation of social capital and attainment of community goals and revitalized neighborhoods, as well as increased tourism and improved quality of life overall for the city.
The Unexpected was established to drive vibrancy in Fort Smith, to challenge perceptions that locals and outsiders alike have of Fort Smith and Arkansas. Arkansas is already a destination for the arts, and what The Unexpected aimed to do was to capture some of that art space without duplicating what existing institutions were already doing. The goals were simple – bring in the most world-renowned artists within the urban and contemporary genre and saturate the downtown area with the highest quality art within the genre. By bringing in world-renowned artists The Unexpected was cognizant that those artists would bring their established followers, thus tapping into an already existing audience while gaining a new one at the same time.
The Unexpected is the first event of its kind in Arkansas and we have paid for the proof of concept.
The Unexpected brings a stage beyond Arkansas as well as starting a flow of support financially toward bigger cultural investments. 2016 The Unexpected saw a global reach that estimated more than 9 million touches and was featured in world-renowned art magazines and blogs such as design boom, My Modern Met and Juxtapoz and more. Fort Smith has established itself as a thought leader and innovator within the urban and contemporary art genre consulting on upcoming projects in neighboring cities. Restaurants and coffee shops have some of their busiest days during The Unexpected event. Following an artist in residency program in 2016, one of first-year The Unexpected artists made Fort Smith her home and is now an active and contributing member of the local art community.
The Unexpected partners with local business and the private sector in the form of sponsorships to pay for the event. Other partnerships include:
- University of Arkansas – Fort Smith art department. The Unexpected fundraises, produces and manages the UAFS mural sites during the event so that the students can take part alongside world-renowned artists in a professional manner.
- Northside High School and Southside High School. The Unexpected fundraises, produces and manages the NHS/SHS murals site during the event so that students can participate in the event alongside world-renowned artists in a professional manner.
- Artfeeds. An organization that facilitates emotional expression in children through creative learning, Artfeeds provides free and therapeutic art and creative education programs. Artfeeds debuted their new mobile creative learning facility during The Unexpected 2017 offering a free art activity for kids.
- U.S. Marshalls Museum. In partnership with the high schools U.S. Marshall Museum sponsored mobile murals that the students painted during the Peacemaker Music Festival.
- Peacemaker Music Festival. For the 3rd year in a row Peacemaker Music Festival has been one of Fort Smith’s most popular music events. For 2017, The Unexpected and Peacemaker Music Festival held a combined event week to maximize exposure for both events and introduce new artists and audiences to each other.
The Unexpected is not only a cultural event, but also a civic revitalization project that champions the arts and increases awareness of Fort Smith as an innovative City.
The Unexpected is funded purely by the private sector, and building owners give permission for us to activate their spaces. Additionally, countless hours of volunteers give their time to assist the artists and The Unexpected staff in various capacities.
The Unexpected is the first event of its kind in Arkansas